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Disease in ancient Egypt

The evidence for sickness in ancient Egypt may be divided into three categories:

From the primary sources (the human remains) and the secondary or mediated sources (depictions and writings, mainly manuscripts), a range of diseases is known from ancient Egypt (Filer 1995; Nunn 1996):


Some diseases leave no trace even in well-preserved bodies, and some may not have entered Egyptian vocabulary: in combination this creates a gap in the record.

Leprosy is not attested in ancient Egypt: a sixth century AD Christian burial in Nubia may be the earliest reported instance.

Plague may be the disease called in Egyptian healing manuscripts tA-nt-aAmw 'the Asiatic (disease)', but this is disputed; written sources also preserve the terms rnpt iAdt 'year of pestilence' connected with Sekhmet, the goddess who was the incarnation of divine anger. Roman Period manuscripts refer to measures taken by a member of temple staff, the priest of Sekhmet, to check meat and livestock, and to protect against contagion (Osing/Rosati 1998, cf Quack 2000).


See too the bibliography for recent studies of populations from grouped human remains carefully excavated.


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